SEC: Branden Smith

ATHENS, Ga. -- Damian Swann’s hair isn’t thinning and he doesn’t wake up each morning with chronic back pain, but he does feel like the resident old guy in Georgia’s secondary.

The rising junior cornerback spent his first two seasons surrounded by veterans, but entered this spring as the only defensive back in the Bulldogs’ arsenal with any valuable field experience.

It’s a different feeling for Swann, who is going from student to big brother/teacher, but as spring practice winds down, he’s more comfortable with being the guy who is looked up to in this defense.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsDamian Swann broke up five passes and led the team with four interceptions last season.
“It was a challenge [to take on more responsibility this spring], but now it’s going to be even more challenging because I’m kind of the lone defensive back, period, that has established himself in this system,” Swann told ESPN.com Thursday. “A lot of people might look at it as me having to make more plays than I did last year, which is fine because that’s what I want to do.”

He also wants to make sure all the holes left by the departures of corners Sanders Commings and Branden Smith, along with safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams are properly filled. These weren’t run-of-the-mill players, either. These were strong, veteran starters that any SEC team would have loved to have.

Now, the Bulldogs have to replace them with a slew of youngsters, mostly freshmen, and Swann feels somewhat responsible for guiding them this year. He isn’t looking to be a father figure, just the best big brother he can be.

Still, taking on a leadership role and having to teach has felt odd at times considering Swann wasn’t even sure how much playing time he was going to get last season.

After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2011, Swann began 2012 as a starter only due to a rash of suspensions in the secondary. With Commings sitting for two games to start the year, Swann said he wasn’t surprised by his heavy playing time, but when Commings returned, he still found himself in the starting lineup. Then, when the Tennessee game arrived in Week 5, he was named the strong corner starter and would stay there all season.

He expected to move back to the nickel at some point, which was fine, but taking over one of the top corner spots left him a bit speechless. He went from 60-70 plays a game to 80-90, which was a lot for a youngster like Swann.

“That was a big push for me, just being a sophomore playing all those snaps in the SEC,” Swann said with a laugh.

Swann started 14 games last year and led the team with four interceptions and also broke up five passes. He even recorded two sacks, recovered two fumbles and forced two fumbles.

Quietly, Swann played a big part of Georgia’s defense last season, but he’s looking for an even bigger role in 2013.

“I want to be the guy that lives up to the expectations, that wants to be in the spotlight, that wants to cover your best receiver,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge for me, but I’m willing to accept that.”

Swann is actually in an interesting spot. He starts off as the team’s top player in the secondary, but he might not get all the attention he wants this fall. Offenses usually tend to pick on the younger guys, so Swann might not have passes thrown his way as much as he’d like.

That means his teaching skills will have to be that much better as he tries to coach up the pups around him. The good news is after all the time he got last season, Swann thinks he’ll have more time to help than worry about his own game once fall arrives.

“Last season might have been the best thing that could have happened to me and to Georgia because imagine if I wasn’t to play and we graduated all those guys,” he said. “Now, it’s going to a whole entire brand-new secondary with hardly any experience. Me playing as much as I did puts us in a better situation.”

Mizzou game the concern with Mitchell 

August, 31, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Sophomore Malcolm Mitchell's absence is not likely to affect the outcome of Georgia’s game against Buffalo on Saturday -- after all, Mitchell’s Bulldogs are favored by between 37 and 38 points depending on which bookmaker you prefer -- but Georgia fans no doubt hope his sprained left ankle heals quickly.

[+] EnlargeMitchell
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesUGA fans are hoping Malcolm Mitchell will return in time for Missouri.
The Bulldogs are already without suspended senior cornerback Sanders Commings, who started all 14 games last season, for the Buffalo and Missouri games. The purpose of Mitchell’s springtime shift to cornerback was in part to offset Commings’ absence and to add extra depth in the secondary.

If he’s unavailable for next week’s visit to Missouri -- Georgia associate athletic director Claude Felton said “no projections [have been made] at this point on his availability” for the visit to Mizzou -- the Bulldogs’ secondary will be on even shakier ground.
Depth charts for all 14 SEC teams are out, so let's take a look at them.

I'll handle the Eastern Division, while Chris takes a look at the West later today.

I've added some notes of my own for each team:

FLORIDA

Depth chart
  • The first thing you notice is that "Or" comes up a few times. The quarterback spot is still up for grabs, as sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will play by quarters against Bowling Green Saturday. The "X" receiver spot has three names by it with Frankie Hammond, Latroy Pittman and Andre Debose competing for that spot. Everyone is still waiting for Debose to be more of a complete player.
  • Both corner spots might appear to be up for grabs, but it would be a shocker if sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy didn't start. Roberson has the talent to be an All-SEC player at some point, while the staff thinks Purifoy is an extremely athletic player. Also, seeing Antonio Morrison behind Jelani Jenkins is impressive. He's been solid since arriving this spring.
  • You don't see De'Ante Saunders on there at free safety. Will Muschamp said he's battling a hamstring injury and will be out two weeks. Corner Jeremy Brown is also battling a wrist injury and isn't on the two-deep, either.
GEORGIA

Depth chart (Page 2)
  • It's hard to say how much we can really make of Georgia's depth chart. Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree are both listed as starters. Rambo and Ogletree could still sit out a couple of games due to their reported failed drug tests this spring and Mark Richt hasn't said if either will play Saturday.
  • Malcolm Mitchell is listed as a starter at cornerback, opposite Branden Smith, and is a third-team receiver. That sounds about right, as Mitchell has primarily played corners since the spring. He has taken some reps on offense, so you might see him on both sides of the ball Saturday.
  • Two guys to keep an eye on are center David Andrews and outside linebacker Ramik Wilson. Andrews might be the key to the offensive line. He has done very well at center and there was some worry that he might not be cut out of the position. If he had to move this line might have been in disarray. Wilson received a lot of praise from his teammates this spring and he continued to show out this fall. He won't outshine Jarvis Jones this fall, but he'll cause a stir on defense.
KENTUCKY

Depth chart
  • You can tell that the Wildcats aren't afraid to throw out some younger players this fall. Kentucky has 24 sophomores, redshirt freshmen or true freshmen listed on its two-deep for Saturday. That's a lot, especially for a team that is looking to revamp both sides of the ball. There could be a lot of growing pains for this team early.
  • Sophomore receiver Demarco Robinson and redshirt freshman receiver Daryl Collins might be currently listed as backups for the Cats, but don't let that fool you. Both have been very impressive since the spring and both will get plenty of chances to see the field Saturday. Having three senior starters at wide receiver will help bring those two along, but I expect them to breakthrough eventually.
  • You won't see sophomore Josh Clemons listed on the two-deep at running back, as he's out after his knee was cleaned up. CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders are listed as co-starters. I'm also curious to see what happens at linebacker. Four new starters are in and there were questions surrounding the weakside position. Former quarterback Tyler Brause moved ahead of Malcolm McDuffen, who exited spring as a starter. Joker Phillips has said this will be a day-to-day competition.
MISSOURI

Depth chart
  • The Tigers enter Week 1 against Southeastern Louisiana pretty banged up, especially on the offensive line. Potential starting guards Jack Meiners (knee) and Travis Ruth (triceps) are both out with injuries, and so is backup right tackle Taylor Chappell, who tore the ACL in his left knee and is out for the season. Starting corner Kip Edwards and projected starting free safety Braylon Webb are listed as doubtful with knee injuries. It's probably best to rest these guys if they could aggravate their injuries before the Georgia game next week.
  • Gary Pinkel also announced on Monday that running back Henry Josey is out for the season. He hasn't recovered from his devastating knee injury, but this was no surprise at all.
  • Some good news is that four starters -- linebacker Will Ebner, nose guard Matt Hoch, wide receiver L'Damian Washington and tight end Eric Waters -- made the two-deep after they were held out of last week's scrimmage. Listed behind Waters at the tight end/"Y" receiver spot is freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. Missouri wants to use him both inside and out, so expect him to move around Saturday.
  • Sophomore Kony Ealy and junior Michael Sam are listed as the starting defensive ends, with senior Brad Madison behind Sam. Madison's shoulder has healed, but maybe it says more about how far the others have come. Madison should still get solid reps, but keep an eye on Ealy. He has breakout potential.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Depth chart
  • The first thing that stands out to me is that top signee Shaq Roland is listed as a third-team wide receiver behind Ace Sanders and DeAngelo Smith. It might say more about how the others have done, but Roland is someone this staff has been very excited about and hopes he can make an instant impact on offense. He isn't taking Sanders' spot, but he'll get on the field.
  • That secondary looks pretty green without Akeem Auguste in it. He's out after tearing a muscle in his right thigh, meaning junior Jimmy Legree, who moved from safety this spring will get the start against Vanderbilt Thursday. Legree began last season as a starter, but lost his spot after struggling during the first two games. First-time starter Victor Hampton is at the other corner spot. He's unproven, but the staff is excited about his talent and athleticism.
  • Freshman tight end Jerell Adams might be listed as a second-teamer, but the coaches have been very impressed by him this fall and he'll have every chance to get some solid playing time early.
TENNESSEE

Depth chart
  • Junior Rajion Neal did a good job of staying ahead in the running back race. After an impressive spring, he will enter Friday's opener against NC State as the Vols' starter. He edged out Devrin Young and Marlin Lane, who both made good strides this spring. He has a lot of pressure to deal with, as Tennessee was awful running that ball in 2011.
  • Tennessee is hoping to get much more out of its defensive line this fall and junior college transfers Daniel McCullers and Darrington Sentimore could be the answers. Both came in with a ton of hype and snatched starting spots at nose guard and end, respectively. McCullers' arrival moved Maurice Couch from tackle to end. Derek Dooley has said the line is still a work in progress, but a lot is expected from Sentimore and McCullers.
  • Byron Moore and Brent Brewer are listed as co-starters right now, but Moore let it slip last week that he was named the starter. This could be another position that won't be settled right away. The secondary will get a nice test against the Wolfpack, so that could make things clearer for Week 2.
VANDERBILT

Depth chart
  • Redshirt junior Warren Norman is back, but he might have to wait his turn for reps. He's listed on Vandy's second team, but Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour are on the first team. If the Commodores line up with two backs Seymour could be out there before Norman, who is coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2011.
  • The defensive side has a few guys who were banged up listed as starters. Inside linebacker Chase Garnham was limited during fall camp, but he's set to start Thursday against South Carolina. So are defensive tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter.
  • Looking at that offensive line, you'll see nothing but underclassmen on the second team. While that's a good sign for the future, it could be worrisome for this staff if a starter goes down this fall. Staying healthy up front is critical for this team.
LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. knows exactly what Georgia is going through.

Last season, he watched an extremely talented Tigers team deal with a myriad of distractions during their national title run. Even though LSU made it to the big game, Beckham said the path taken was extremely tiresome at times.

“It sucks that you have to wait all that time for the season to actually get started, but you have to do things to keep yourself out of trouble,” Beckham said. “If it’s an extra workout or staying with teammates, you have to do it.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comDespite a tumultuous couple of months, the Bulldogs had "a very productive and great offseason," Aaron Murray said.
Georgia needed that advice long ago, as the Bulldogs ran into a rash of off-field trouble this spring that leaked over into the summer. What made matters worse was the fact that key starters were involved:

  • Cornerback Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21. Corner Branden Smith was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession during spring break.
  • All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree were suspended for reportedly failing drug tests.
  • This summer running back Isaiah Crowell was dismissed after he was arrested and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, a felony count of altered identification mark and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension following his DUI arrest in May .

Senior defensive end Abry Jones was extremely bothered by the off-field garbage. As things piled up, his patience began to dissolve as he watched a team with so much talent risk throwing everything away with humiliating off-field transgressions.

“It’s real frustrating,” Jones said, “but at the end of the day, when you see people who can’t really control themselves off the field [you realize] it was people who weren’t really in it for the whole team the whole time.”

The Bulldogs are now hoping to take a chapter from LSU’s playbook and make an SEC title run while ignoring the noise surrounding them.

“The off-field distractions are very unfortunate and the things that happened to those guys are very unfortunate,” senior receiver Tavarres King said. “But we’re keeping the main thing the main thing, and that’s winning ballgames, progressing as a team and getting better.

“It’s pretty frustrating, but you get a hold of those guys and you bring them back.”

Getting better and focusing began when the spring nonsense brought things to a boiling point inside Georgia’s locker room. The coaches were flustered and players felt betrayed. That’s when quarterback Aaron Murray and some of the other veterans stepped in to rally the team together.

Murray said the players held multiple meetings in which they discussed how they were wasting the riches in front of them. The silliness not only embarrassed the program but it would eventually keep the Bulldogs from another SEC run if it didn’t stop.

The more meetings they had, Murray said, the more focused and cautious players became away from the field. A real sense of urgency fell over the team, Murray said.

Even after Crowell’s arrest and subsequent dismissal, Murray said players kept moving and had an extremely productive offseason.

“We just want to go out there and play,” he said. “It’s been a long offseason, but it’s been a very productive and great offseason. Guys have worked hard and they just want to go out there and play football.

“It’s definitely been the most successful summer that I’ve been a part of because of the amount of work everyone put in and the amount of time [people put in]. Everyone was extremely focused and understood the goals that we had and were ready to do what was needed to accomplish those.”

Now, it’s time to see how this team reacts when the meat of the season arrives and players get antsy. Games start taking a toll and players need release. How will this team respond?

Maybe the Dawgs should take some advice from a former teammate and someone who witnessed a similar situation in 2011.

“They’ve been through a lot this offseason,” said LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was dismissed from Georgia in April of 2010. “It’s a lot of guys that I know [who got in trouble] and I played with them. They just have to keep focused and stay tough. People are going to say things that they want to say about them -- just like what I went through. You just have to stand by your beliefs and know that you’re capable of doing it.”

With its personnel, Georgia is totally capable of making another run to Atlanta, if not further. But this team has to overcome the distractions that turned their offseason into a circus away from the field.

Coach Mark Richt knows it will be a challenge, but he also believes that he has the right guys to get the job done.

“We got a bunch of awesome guys that are working their tail off for a tremendous season and a tremendous outcome and those are the guys I’m focusing the most on right now,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to let what happened slow them down.”

Rounding up some weekend SEC news

August, 6, 2012
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Each SEC team completed its first weekend of fall practice, so let's take a look at some things that came out of team camps:
  • It looks like Georgia won't be down one of its top defensive backs after all. Coach Mark Richt announced that cornerback Branden Smith won't face suspension to start the season after Smith was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in March. Richt said he felt Smith didn't deserve to be suspended after he reviewed all of the facts of Smith's incident. This is a big break for the Bulldogs because it not only adds some much-needed depth in their defensive backfield but Malcolm Mitchell could now get back to offense earlier. And that's something Richt would like to see. For more from Georgia's camp, check out ESPN.com's DawgNation.
  • LSU didn't receive such great news over the weekend, as coach Les Miles confirmed that incoming freshman receiver Avery Johnson and offensive lineman Fehoko Faniaka won't enroll at LSU until January. "Both guys will be delayed in their reporting date based on qualification issues," Miles told reporters. "We would expect they would be here in January without any loss of eligibility. It's not optimal but it certainly isn't bad news. It's survivable." Johnson said he won't enroll this fall because the SAT score he was waiting on didn't qualify and he is headed to Hargrave Military Academy. For more from LSU's camp, check out ESPN.com's GeauxTigerNation.
  • Texas A&M will be down a couple of players this fall as well. Coach Kevin Sumlin announced on Friday that sophomore running back Will Randolph left the program. Randolph has played in one career game, where he rushed for 37 yards on 10 carries. Sumlin also said that freshman defensive lineman Edmond Ray didn't qualify academically and is headed down the junior college route. Junior tight end Hutson Prioleau has left the program after he met with Sumlin over the weekend. For more notes from Aggies camp, check out ESPN.com's GigEmNation.
  • Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard might have undergone two hernia surgeries during the offseason, but it hasn't slowed him in practice early on. Hubbard said he was limited in the conditioning department for about a month over the summer, but he's full go to start fall practice. "Everyone always thinks a hernia is a big deal, but I got back in probably a month," Hubbard said. "Right now it doesn't bother me anywhere." For more from Alabama's camp, check out ESPN.com's TideNation.
  • Missouri running back Henry Josey is being awfully optimistic about his chances of playing this season. Josey, who suffered a devastating knee injury in Week 9 of the 2012 season, said that there's a "good chance" he'll play this fall. Others around him might not be so ready to back Josey's statements, but Josey says he's "70-80" percent healthy right now. Josey ran some sprints, but watched most of practice with a red non-contact jersey on.
  • Ole Miss watched as four projected starters all went down with injuries Sunday, as safety Charles Sawyer (knee), defensive end C.J. Johnson (foot) and wide receivers Donte Moncrief (thigh) and Collins Moore (shoulder) all got banged up. Sawyer's injury will be monitored closely, as coach Hugh Freeze said there's an indention where the muscle pull is. "That can be something that could last all year if we don't get it well, so we'll try to make sure we get it well," Freeze said. "You just want to make sure it's nothing he'll miss significant time from." Moore could be out several days, but the other injuries aren't expected to be serious.
It's as if Georgia just can't escape off-field storylines during the offseason.

First, we saw the spring arrests of cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith. Then, safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree reportedly failed drug tests. Commings is set to serve a two-game suspension, while the others are likely to miss time as well this fall.

Oh, and then there was the whole Isaiah Crowell incident that left the Bulldogs without its starting running back entering fall camp.

[+] EnlargeUGA tackle Kolton Houston
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comThe Bulldogs will be without their No. 1 right tackle, Kolton Houston, until an anabolic steroid leaves his system.
Then, came Thursday's events. One incident could be classified as bad luck, as redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kolton Houston was ruled ineligible because he again tested positive for a steroid he was given after he underwent shoulder surgery before enrolling at Georgia in 2010.

The other? Well, it was another suspension, as Mark Richt announced that potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension to begin the year following his DUI arrest in May in Atlanta.

While the latter has to infuriate Richt, Houston's situation must be frustrating. Houston, who won the starting right tackle spot this spring, is still testing positive for an anabolic steroid, 19-norandrosterone, that Georgia's medical staff says he unknowingly took after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2009. Georgia's staff has continued to test Houston since he first tested positive for the steroid in April 2010 and insists that he hasn't used the drug again.

Unfortunately, enough of the drug still remains in his system. Georgia pleaded its case to have the NCAA make an exception for Houston, but the NCAA said no way.

"He's been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football," Richt told reporters at Georgia's preseason media day Thursday. "We're 100 percent certain he has not continued to take this thing, but it's just never gotten far enough out of his system for him to be declared eligible to play."

Added Georgia associate athletic director for sports medicine Ron Courson: "My hope is to restore his eligibility as soon as we can. ... We feel like we're so close," Courson said. "He's served his penalty. Let's not quibble about two or three anagrams. There's no performance-enhancing aspect. He's paid his due."

Unfortunately, the NCAA can't make an exception for Houston. He's already escaped a lifetime ban after his second positive test, and while you have to feel for Houston, making an exception for him would open up a new can of worms for the NCAA. The NCAA doesn't want to have to deal with similar cases each year because you never know which ones could be true or fabiricated.

I'm not saying Houston's is fabricated, but if he were allowed to play, what's to stop other athletes from experimenting to see if they can use a similar story to slip by the NCAA?

It also means that Georgia's line, which wasn't in the best shape exiting spring, has more concerns to work through. Though Houston had yet to play a down for the Bulldogs, he was still viewed as one of Georgia's top linemen. Richt said sophomore Watts Dantzler now moves into the starting right tackle spot. The bottom line is that this line has to accelerate its development and get some of those youngsters more prepared.

While Houston's situation is out of Richt's hands, he has to make sure that ones like Vasser's stop. This team has too much to lose and can't let boneheaded incidents slow it down.

Georgia has one of stricter discipline policies in the league, but maybe Richt has to do more because you have to wonder if some of these players don't care. If it's so strict, why do off-field incidents continue to pile up in Athens? You could argue that law enforcement there is a bit stricter, but at the end of the day it's the athletes who make these decisions.

I wouldn't blame Richt if he went to bed with his cell phone off.

Georgia has to stop the silliness or its season will be a major disappointment and, unfortunately, Richt will have to shoulder most of the blame from fans.

One good reason: Georgia

July, 23, 2012
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Our "One good reason" series is back, and we're looking at the Georgia Bulldogs.

Good reasons:
Let's see what the Bulldogs can do in 2012:

Georgia will win the SEC: The Bulldogs' defense is loaded.

The Bulldogs have some elite talent coming back on the defensive side of the ball. Ten starters return from a group that ranked fifth nationally in total defense last season. Sure, this team will likely be without four key starters -- safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerbacks Branden Smith and Sanders Commings, and linebacker Alec Ogletree -- at the beginning of the season because of suspension, but it's not like the Bulldogs lack capable bodies to fill in early. Malcolm Mitchell, who played cornerback in high school, moved over to corner this spring and should have an immediate impact, while sophomore Damian Swann has the potential to be a budding star, and he'll get his chance to show it early. Veteran Shawn Williams is still back at safety, as well.

And look at that front seven. Jarvis Jones leads a talented, experienced linebacking corps after being arguably the best at his position last year, racking up 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. The scary thing is he insists he'll be even better in 2012. What helps take some pressure off of him is the Bulldogs feel they have another solid pass rusher in Cornelius Washington, who moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. Fellow end Abry Jones had a very solid spring, while nose guards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers should absolutely swallow up the middle. Getting Ogletree back will make this front group even better.

This group is big, athletic, fast and feels even more comfortable in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme. Another top-10 finish is expected.

Why it won't: There too many questions with the running game.

Isaiah Crowell was never spectacular during his very short Georgia career, but he when he was at 100 percent and was all in for the Dawgs, he was the best option at running back. After making strides this spring he was dismissed in June after his arrest on felony gun charges. Now, the Bulldogs will turn to senior Richard Samuel, who has moved back to running back and has 768 career rushing yards, and a handful of youngsters, starting with sophomore Ken Malcome and frosh Keith Marshall. Malcome was used sparringly last season, but had a very productive spring, leaving as the co-starter at running back. Marshall enrolled early with a load of hype, but might be used more on the edge than up the middle. The Bulldogs are also hoping to get a lot out of incoming freshman Todd Gurley and junior Brandon Harton returns as well.

Right now, we don't know what Georgia will get out of this group. There is depth, but none of these backs are truly proven. Georgia ranked 49th in rushing last year with Crowell in the lineup, but in the biggest game of the year -- the SEC title game against LSU -- the Bulldogs mustered just 78 rushing yards -- most of which came in garbage time -- with Malcome leading the way with 37 yards.

Georgia will need much more than that to get to Atlanta and get out of the Georgia Dome with a win. The good news is that only two of Georgia's 2012 opponents ranked within the top 40 in rushing defense last year, in Missouri (30th) and Vanderbilt (36th), but expect Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee to be better against the run this fall. If the Bulldogs can't get the ground game going on a consistent basis and against better defenses, an SEC title will be hard to come by.
We continue to rank all the positions in the SEC and turn our attention to groups of defensive backs the conference has to offer.

Past rankings:
On to the league's secondaries:

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTyrann Mathieu is a force to be reckoned with in the LSU secondary.
1. LSU: The Tigers bring back a load of talent here. Tyrann Mathieu and his Honey Badger persona return, but he might not be LSU's best pure corner. While Mathieu has a true knack for finding the ball, no matter where he is, junior Tharold Simon, who replaces Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, might have the best cover ability on the team. Junior safety Eric Reid takes the back end of the field away and will challenge to be one of the nation's top safeties this fall. The coaches are still waiting for safety Craig Loston to break out, and his solid spring was an encouragement. Keep an eye on safety Micah Eugene, who turned heads this spring.

2. Georgia: The Bulldogs have some depth concerns and some players will face early-season suspensions, but the Bulldogs are loaded at the top. Bacarri Rambo is one of the nation's best safeties and he has a very solid partner in Shawn Williams, who led the Dawgs in tackles last year. Seniors Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are back, but will likely sit out the start of the year because of suspension. That leaves Malcolm Mitchell, who moved from receiver, to fill in and he's no stranger to defense. The coaches are also excited about youngster Damian Swann, who will play early.

3. Alabama: With three starters gone, this group is drawing a lot of comparisons to the 2010 unit that struggled at times. However, this batch of DBs insists it'll be more prepared this fall and shakes off the comparisons. Veteran Robert Lester is back at safety and is an All-SEC-type player. Junior cornerback Dee Milliner has 16 career starts under his belt and is an underrated talent, and the coaches are expecting to get a lot out of junior college transfers Travell Dixon and Deion Belue. Keep an eye on safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who has the talent to be a star in this league.

4. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs own one of the league's best corner duos in seniors Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Banks might hold the title as the league's best returning cover corner. Darius Slay is also another corner to watch, as he has some legit playmaking ability. Junior safety Nickoe Whitley is back as well and he would have had better numbers if not for a ruptured Achilles tendon that cut his 2011 season short. He grabbed four interceptions in nine games and should be 100 percent this fall.

5. Florida: This group was pretty young last year, but now has some quality experience under its belt. Safety Matt Elam is the best of the bunch and should challenge to be the league's top safety this year. Sophomore Marcus Roberson had a solid freshman season and has the makings to be a top cover corner in this league. The other corner spot is up for grabs, but keep an eye on sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy, who the staff is very excited about. Josh Evans had a good spring at free safety, but he'll have his hands full fighting off sophomore De'Ante Saunders, who started nine games last year.

6. Missouri: The star of this group is junior corner E.J. Gaines, who recorded only two interceptions, but he broke up 16 passes in 2011 and is bonafide All-SEC candidate. Across from Gaines is senior Kip Edwards, who returns for his second year as a starter and has 37 games to his credit. Edwards turned into a solid cover man toward the end of last season. Seven players return with starting experience, including safeties Kenronte Walker (four starts), who was named the team's most improved safety this spring, and Braylon Webb (four), who had a strong freshman year.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are down three starters, but they aren't without talent. Senior safety D.J. Swearinger, the lone returning starter, is one of the league's top safeties and is solid against the pass and the run. Vet Akeem Auguste returns after missing all of last year with a foot injury, and he's back at corner after moving to safety in 2010. The questions begin with sophomores Victor Hampton (corner) and Brison Williams (safety). Hampton has the talent to succeed, but has some maturing to do. Williams struggled in his only start last year, but the staff really likes his upside.

8. Vanderbilt: Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson are gone, but the Commodores still possess some pretty good talent in the secondary, starting with corner Trey Wilson, who had a solid 2011 in Hayward's shadow. The coaches like what they've seen from junior corner Andre Hal, and safety Kenny Ladler could be a real player at free safety. Expect Eric Samuels and Javon Marshall, who have both see plenty of field time in their careers, to get into the safety rotation this fall.

9. Auburn: The Tigers' secondary took some lumps last year, but certainly has experience back there. Three veteran starters are back with 33 combined starts from a year ago. Fifth-year senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell didn't go through spring while he recovered from knee surgery, but has the talent to be a top corner in this league. Juniors Chris Davis (corner) and Demetruce McNeal are both back and sophomore Jermaine Whitehead, who had a solid freshman campaign, will get time at safety.

10. Tennessee: Tennessee gave up 7 yards per attempt last year, but things could turnaround this fall. Tennessee has a lot of game experience at corner, including senior Prentiss Waggner, who is the leader of the group. Sophomore Brian Randolph had a solid freshman campaign and junior Brent Brewer is returning to the other safety spot after suffering an ACL injury in late October. Izauea Lanier was ruled ineligible this summer, meaning Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon will compete with Justin Coleman for a corner spot.

11. Arkansas: Sophomore Tevin Mitchel had a solid first year in Fayetteville and is on course to have a true breakout year this fall. Junior Eric Bennett is holding down one of the safety sports and started 13 games in 2011 after moving from cornerback last spring. The staff is still waiting on senior corner Darius Winston to live up to the hype that followed him from high school. Freshmen Kelvin Fisher Jr. and Davyon McKinney will get their chances to play this fall and help with depth.

12. Ole Miss: The Rebels should be better against the pass this year and things start with veteran safety Charles Sawyer, who has All-SEC quality and should have had at least three more than the four interceptions he recorded last year. Former JUCO transfer corner Wesley Pendleton had an impressive year last season, but looked even better this spring. Nickolas Brassell is gone, but the coaches hope to get more out of former freshman standout Senquez Golson, and junior Brishen Mathews returns from back injury to take the hybrid Husky position.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats must replace two starting corners, but the coaches feel good about senior Cartier Rice and redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey. Caffey, who moved from running back, might have the most upside and was one of Kentucky's top players this spring. Senior starting safeties Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton are back. Neloms had a solid spring and racked up 71 tackles last year. Behind them, the Wildcats are full of unproven youngsters.

14. Texas A&M: This is where the Aggies could really struggle. Texas A&M ranked 109th nationally in pass defense last year and could start three sophomores in its secondary this fall. Senior safety Steven Campbell can be a real playmaker for this group, but he's struggled to stay healthy during his career. Senior Dustin Harris has shown flashes on defense, but left spring as a backup to sophomore Deshazor Everett. Sophomore Floyd Raven, who was impressive this spring, has the edge over JUCO transfer Tremaine Jacobs at the other corner spot. The coaches are hoping this is a more athletic group in 2012.

Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell was arrested on weapons charges by Athens-Clarke County Police early Friday morning.

The rising sophomore was arrested and charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, according to the jail booking report. He was charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone; a felony count of altered identification mark; and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon.

Crowell was arrested at about 2:20 a.m. ET after being stopped at a vehicle checkpoint near campus, and he was booked at 3:37 a.m. His bond was set at $7,500, but was increased to $9,500 Friday afternoon.

This is yet again another Crowell-related distraction for the Bulldogs. If things weren't rocky enough after his up-and-down freshman year, Crowell's future with the Bulldogs could be in jeopardy now. Last year, Crowell was benched during the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game for disciplinary reasons and was later suspended for the New Mexico State game after reportedly failing a drug test.

This spring, Crowell vowed to turn things around, and those around him said they had seen a lot of change from the youngster, especially in the maturity department. This, however, appears to set Crowell back a ways.

Georgia's policy is to immediately suspend players from their respective teams if they are charged with felonies. You can bet that coach Mark Richt will absolutely do that with Crowell.

The fact that there was a gun -- with an altered ID number -- in the car that Crowell was driving is a major red flag. We obviously don't know all of the facts, or if the gun was his, but driving a car with a concealed weapon that's basically been tampered with lies on Crowell and his judgment.

That poor judgment could cost Crowell a lot when it comes to being a member of Georgia's football team.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Crowell
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comRising UGA sophomore Isaiah Crowell was jailed following an early Friday morning arrest.
This isn't the first distraction the Bulldogs have dealt with this year. Rising senior cornerback Branden Smith was arrested in early March in Abbeville, Ala., and charged with marijuana possession. Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21 after police accused him of striking his girlfriend during an argument in downtown Athens, Ga.

Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree also are expected to be suspended to start the 2012 season after reportedly failing drug tests.

For a team looking to win the SEC and more, the Bulldogs aren't going into fall the right way.

While sitting with Richt in his office this spring, I asked him about Crowell and his jump from his freshman year to his first spring in Athens. Richt said he had certainly seen a difference in the way Crowell approached practice and his obligations away from the football field. He saw a tougher player who battled harder through the nicks he received in practice. He saw a more focused individual away from the field, as well.

But you could also tell that Richt was waiting to see what would happen after the spring. The pressure had certainly gotten to Crowell last year, but it seemed like he was managing it better. But what about summer, when the coaches aren't around?

So far, things haven't gone the way Richt would like.

If the charges are upheld and Crowell finds himself in a more difficult legal situation, Richt also will be in a tough situation. Will it be time to let the troubled back go? Will it be time to move on from the former top high school prospect?

The answer isn't clear right now, but what is is that Richt's other running backs will have to take even more advantage of the carries they receive once fall practice starts, regardless if Crowell is cleared. The coaches seem excited about their two high-profile backs they signed this year in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. Marshall enrolled early and impressed this spring, while Gurley was expected to contribute from the start.

Don't forget about redshirt sophomore Ken Malcome. He had a very solid spring and actually was listed as a co-starter with Crowell coming out of spring.

When Crowell is at his best, there's no denying the talent he has. But there's also no denying the headaches he's caused this program. Having a mature, focused Crowell would be a plus for the Bulldogs, but too many distractions can ruin a team, especially one with title hopes like Georgia.

Richt could have a tough decision on his hands regarding Crowell's future.
Earlier this week, Georgia released its post-spring/preseason depth chart.

There were no real shockers to come out of it, but Malcolm Mitchell is listed as the second cornerback behind Sanders Commings, while Tavarres King and Marlon Brown are listed as the starting wide receivers. The coaches have said that the plan is to try and play Mitchell at both corner and receiver this fall, but with Commings and Branden Smith facing suspension for the first part of the season, Mitchell will have a chance to get more work at corner to start the year.

At running back, Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome are listed as co-starters. Malcome had a very impressive spring, while Crowell saw some improvement in both his play and attitude. Motivation for Crowell could be on the minds of the coaches with this decision.

There was a bit of a surprise at fullback, as walk-on Merritt Hall is listed on the first team. He's listed in front of Richard Samuel, who moved from running back, and Alexander Ogletree. Georgia coach Mark Richt recently told members of the media that Hall earned the right to be the starter after the impressive spring he had.

Here's the way the rest of Georgia's depth chart looks:

OFFENSE

SE 15 Marlon Brown (6-5, 222, Sr.)
82 Michael Bennett (6-3, 208, RSo.)
6 Michael Erdman (5-10, 191, RSo.)
25 Rhett McGowan (6-0, 190, Jr.)
9 Curtis Wyatt (6-1, 195, RSo.)

LT 72 Kenarious Gates (6-5, 328, Jr.)
74 Austin Long (6-5, 304, Jr.)
63 Xzavier Ward (6-7, 264, RFr.)

LG 64 Dallas Lee (6-4, 300, Jr.)
79 Mark Beard (6-5, 300, So.)
58 Ben Reynolds (6-2, 255, Jr.)

C 61 David Andrews (6-2, 280, So.)
68 Chris Burnette (6-2, 313, Jr.)
64 Dallas Lee (6-4, 300, Jr.)

RG 68 Chris Burnette (6-2, 313, Jr.)
66 Hunter Long (6-4, 300, So.)
77 Caleb Drake (6-1, 275, RFr.)

RT 75 Kolton Houston (6-5, 291, RSo.)
78 Watts Dantzler (6-7, 310, So.)
76 Zach DeBell (6-6, 273, RFr.)
70 Eddie McQuillen (6-8, 264, RFr.)

QB 11 Aaron Murray (6-1, 211, Jr.)
14 Hutson Mason (6-3, 196, Jr.)
16 Christian LeMay (6-2, 198, RFr.)
2 Parker Welch (6-3, 204, RSo.)
10 Faton Bauta (6-3, 222, Fr.)/7 Greg Bingham (6-4, 223, RSo.)

FB 43 Merritt Hall (5-11, 216, RFr.)
22 Richard Samuel IV (6-2, 243, Sr.)
46 Alexander Ogletree (5-10, 224, Jr.)
42 Dustin Royston (5-11, 242, Jr.)
49 Cory Campbell (5-10, 210, RSo.)
58 Taylor Maxey (5-10, 220, RFr.)

RB 24 Ken Malcome (6-0, 226, RSo.) OR
1 Isaiah Crowell (5-11, 215, So.)

4 Keith Marshall (5-11, 202, Fr.)
20 Brandon Harton (5-6, 174, Jr.)
33 Kyle Karempelis (5-9, 180, So.)
23 Alex Parsons (5-10, 194, Jr.)

FLK 12 Tavarres King (6-1, 192, Sr.)
86 Justin Scott-Wesley (5-11, 218, RFr.)
17 Rantavious Wooten (5-10, 185, Jr.) OR
31 Chris Conley (6-3, 202, So.)
80 Taylor Bradberry (6-3, 192, Sr.)
29 Jamal Payette (6-3, 183, RFr.)

TE 88 Arthur Lynch (6-5, 272, Jr.)
87 Jay Rome (6-6, 254, RFr.)
84 Hugh Williams (6-5, 254, RSo.)
27 Greg Mulkey (6-3, 230, RFr.)
83 Jack Loonam (6-0, 215, RFr.)
85 Geoff Rapp (6-3, 230, RFr.)
44 Drew Wilson (6-2, 206, Jr.)

DEFENSE

DE 93 Abry Jones (6-3, 309, Sr.)
56 Garrison Smith (6-3, 294, Jr.)
88 Ricky Lowe (6-7, 258, Sr.)

N 6 John Jenkins (6-3, 351, Sr.)
99 Kwame Geathers (6-6, 350, Jr.)
96 Michael Thornton (6-1, 287, RSo.)

DE 83 Cornelius Washington (6-4, 260, Sr.)
47 Ray Drew (6-5, 263, So.)
58 Sterling Bailey (6-3, 259, RFr.)

OLB 33 Chase Vasser (6-3, 227, Jr.)
51 Ramik Wilson (6-2, 224, So.)

OLB 29 Jarvis Jones (6-3, 241, Jr.)
44 T.J. Stripling (6-6, 222, Jr.)
95 Reuben Faloughi (6-5, 255, Jr.)
92 Dexter Morant (6-7, 245, RSo.)

ILB 35 Michael Gilliard (6-2, 220, Sr.)
52 Amarlo Herrera (6-2, 231, So.)
41 Brandon Burrows (6-3, 240, RSo.)
46 A.J. McDonald (6-0, 240, So.)

ILB 9 Alec Ogletree (6-3, 236, Jr.)
45 Christian Robinson (6-2, 226, Sr.)
48 Kosta Vavlas (6-0, 219, RSo.)

CB 19 Sanders Commings (6-2, 217, Jr.)
26 Malcolm Mitchell (6-1, 184, So.)
37 Devin Bowman (6-0, 175, RFr.)
4 Luis Capella (5-10, 176, Jr.)

CB 1 Branden Smith (5-11, 176, Sr.)
5 Damian Swann (5-11, 177, So.)
3 Blake Sailors (5-11, 186, RSo.)

SS 36 Shawn Williams (6-1, 220, Sr.)
39 Corey Moore (6-2, 207, So.)
43 Quintavius Harrow (5-11, 183, So.)
12 Austin Herod (5-10, 191, Jr.)

FS 18 Bacarri Rambo (6-0, 218, Sr.)
11 Connor Norman (5-10, 208, RSo.)
25 Marc Deas (6-1, 197, RSo.)
20 Lucas Redd (6-1, 210, RSo.)

SPECIALISTS

P 97 Adam Erickson (5-10, 168, RFr.)
91 Scott Eichler (5-11, 184, Jr.)
90 Ethan Jackson (5-11, 182, Fr.)

K 99 Jamie Lindley (5-11, 177, Sr.)
97 Adam Erickson (5-10, 168, RSo.)
93 Patrick Beless (5-9, 155, Fr.)

SN 69 Ty Frix (6-0, 213, Sr.)
59 Nathan Theus (6-3, 254, RFr.)
60 Wright Gazaway (6-0, 240, RFr.)

Georgia spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
11:00
AM ET
2011 overall record: 10-4
2011 conference record: 7-1 (T-1st)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners:

QB Aaron Murray, OLB Jarvis Jones, S Bacarri Rambo, S Shawn Williams, LB Alec Ogletree, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Tavarres King, N John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, DE Abry Jones

Key losses:

OT Cordy Glenn, C Ben Jones, CB Brandon Boykin, TE Orson Charles, K Blair Walsh, P Drew Butler, OT Justin Anderson, DE DeAngelo Tyson

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Isaiah Crowell* (850 yards)
Passing: Aaron Murray* (3,149 yards)
Receiving: Tavarres King* (705 yards)
Tackles: Shawn Williams* (72)
Sacks: Jarvis Jones* (13.5)
Interceptions: Bacarri Rambo* (8)

Spring answers

1. Mitchell joins defense: Georgia’s coaching staff planned to experiment with receiver Malcolm Mitchell as a two-way player even before several members of the Bulldogs’ secondary ran into disciplinary trouble. Now Mitchell’s services are a necessity on defense rather than a luxury. He will probably play defense almost exclusively in the first few games and convinced his coaches that he should fare well there after becoming one of the Bulldogs’ breakout offensive stars last year as a freshman.

2. Washington, Drew shift to end: Georgia’s depth was a bit thin at defensive end, but outside linebackers Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew cross-trained there during spring practice, which should also bolster the Bulldogs’ pass rush off the edge. Washington lamented that he was picking up the position slowly during the spring, but he had worked his way into a starting position and earned widespread praise for his work at end by the G-Day game.

3. Tight end turnover: With Orson Charles leaving Georgia after his junior year and Aron White and Bruce Figgins exhausting their eligibility, one of the Bulldogs’ least experienced positions is tight end. However, Arthur Lynch and redshirt freshman Jay Rome made it clear that the position is still in good hands. Rome, ESPN’s top-rated tight end in the 2011 signing class, caught a 66-yard touchdown in the final minute of the G-Day game.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line: Coach Will Friend began determining a pecking order on his rebuilt line this spring, but the competition will likely carry over into the season. When the Bulldogs closed spring practice, Kenarious Gates and Kolton Houston manned the tackle spots with Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee at guard and David Andrews at center. That lineup is subject to change, particularly with stud offensive line signee John Theus set to join the competition when he arrives this summer. Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler and Austin Long are also worth watching.

2. Special teams: Not only was Georgia’s kick coverage incompetent last season -- the Bulldogs were 116th nationally in punt return yardage defense and 88th against kickoffs -- but the Bulldogs must replace longtime starting kicker and punter Blair Walsh and Drew Butler. The Bulldogs signed Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber to take over for the departed kickers and Coach Mark Richt promised that the Bulldogs will work more on live kicking situations in preseason camp than perhaps any previous time in his tenure.

3. Secondary: This appears to be a temporary problem, with starters Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo and Branden Smith facing possible disciplinary suspensions to open the season. Mitchell’s shift to cornerback will help Damian Swann and Devin Bowman hold down the position until Commings and Smith return. Depth will also be an early issue at safety without Rambo. Commings, who will sit out the first two games, has safety experience, but few other Bulldogs have played significant downs at the position besides Rambo and Shawn Williams. Corey Moore is a player to watch here.
A lot of votes were cast and it came down to the wire, but the fans have spoken and South Carolina has won the poll battle of the defenses.

With nearly 12,000 votes cast, South Carolina barely claimed first place with 24 percent of the vote. Alabama was second with 23 percent, while LSU grabbed 21 percent. Georgia got 13 percent of the vote while the category of "Other" received 19 percent.

South Carolina is a solid pick when you look at who returns. Defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor are back alongside tackle Kelcy Quarles. Clowney and Taylor combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. Quarles really progressed as the season went on and provided a nice big, disruptive body against the run.

Veterans return at linebacker, with seniors Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens in the middle and DeVonte Holloman is back at the Spur, where he's at his best. Seniors D.J. Swearinger (safety) and Akeem Auguste (cornerback) are back in the secondary, as well.

Most of the questions for this defense lie in the secondary, with sophomores-to-be Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety) expected to start this fall. Williams collected a start against Florida last year, while Hampton did most of his damage on special teams. Expect offenses to key in on them early.

At this moment, I'd have to go with LSU. The Tigers return one of the best defensive lines in the country, with two potential first-rounders in ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. And LSU's staff is very excited about what Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson can do at the tackle spots. This line should be the strength of this team and it will make it hard to run and throw on the Tigers. It'll take pressure off the linebackers, which lose two starters.

The secondary loses Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor, but the Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu) is back and so is Eric Reid, who might be the league's top safety. Keep an eye on Tharold Simon at cornerback. He should be a solid cover corner this fall.

Alabama is down a handful of starters from last year, but don't think that will send this unit into a tailspin. Defensive tackle Jesse Williams is an animal and linebackers C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson and Adrian Hubbard aren't slouches by any means. Yes, the secondary is a little green, but corner Dee Milliner and Robert Lester should help provide some stability. JUCO standouts Deion Belue and Travell Dixon impressed this spring and youngsters Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix look ready to be big contributors.

And with nine starters returning for Georgia, the Bulldogs should have another solid defensive squad this fall. There has to be some worry with four starters suspended for the beginning of the season, but at full strength, this defense will be a handful, especially with one of the best linebacking corps in the country that includes All-American Jarvis Jones, speedster Alec Ogletree and work horse Michael Gilliard. Once Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings, Shawn Williams and Branden Smith are all back and together, Georgia's secondary will be potent.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Complacency is always a concern when bringing back a top-rated team or unit. Players can’t hide from the fact that they’re good and everyone around them will make sure they know it and make sure they remember what they did.

Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham doesn’t want his defense, which ranked fifth nationally in 2011, to forget either. But it’s what he doesn’t want his players to forget that has this unit ready to pick up and surpass last year’s success.

“You don’t let guys forget where they came from,” Grantham said. “Don’t let guys forget what got them there and you build from there.”

That’s why Grantham is making sure he gets back to the basics with his players. We’re talking hustling to the ball, right form and playing physical basics. Every year, his plan has always been to go right back to simple fundamentals.

[+] EnlargeChristian Robinson
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comChristian Robinson says this defense has the makings of being one of the best ever at Georgia.
Losing those loses a defense.

“To me, you break it down into five phases and you go back every year and you start over,” Grantham said.

Five phases:

  1. Pre-spring workouts
  2. Spring practice
  3. Summer workouts
  4. Fall camp
  5. Regular season

Fundamentals 101 comes in right when spring ball starts. Proper footwork is harped on. Correct field placement is set up over and over. The right tackling technique is perfected … and then perfected again.

In order to combat complacency, the same motions run by All-American linebacker -- and sack master -- Jarvis Jones are run by wide-eyed nervous freshmen. The goal is to have the older guys pick things up quickly and then assist the youngsters. Grantham wants his players to get better individually, but then focus on improving the team as a whole from the ground up.

That’s why Grantham thinks his defense was much better in 2011. Fundamentals made that group even more comfortable in Grantham’s 3-4 and helped it evolve as the season progressed. The Bulldogs allowed 277.2 yards per game (51 yards less than 2010), forced 32 turnovers and recorded 100 tackles for loss for minus-439 yards.

“Yeah, we knew our system better, but I thought we were a more mentally and physically tough team and we played defense the way you’re supposed to play it -- physical and aggressive,” Grantham said. “When you’re all on the same page and speaking the same language, those things can happen.”

This spring, players bought right into what Grantham preached. Rising senior linebacker Christian Robinson said no one seemed concerned about being content. He said players looked at what they didn't do last year as a spark for the spring. Players dwelled on the 35 points given up to Boise State, the 45 to South Carolina, the 42 to LSU and the 33 to Michigan State -- all losses.

Even when players felt good, Robinson said coaches directed them to video screens to bring them down a notch.

“We’re not perfect, so when we go in our meeting rooms we watch the tape and there are always things to get better at,” Robinson said.

And if film work doesn’t help, coach Mark Richt can cut into the confidence when needed.

“You’re really not a great defense until you play great and we haven’t done that in 2012,” he said. “We haven’t had a chance to do that yet. There’s an anticipation of having a chance to be pretty good if everybody keeps it together, stays healthy and does their part.”

One humbling thought is that Georgia will be without four key starters suspended early for poor off-field behavior. The secondary takes the biggest hit with All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerbacks Branden Smith and Sanders Commings out. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree is also suspended.

Grantham and his players agree that while they’re disappointed in the boneheaded decisions made, they aren’t dwelling on the situation. Grantham used it as an opportunity to create better depth by inserting younger players. He’s no stranger to changing lineups, as he had 11 different ones in 14 games in 2011.

He also received a boost when star wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell moved to corner. He should start the season on defense.

Richt hopes this turns into a situation like last year when linebackers Michael Gilliard and Amarlo Herrera stepped up when Robinson and Ogletree were injured. It also gives coaches a chance to cross train players more, something Grantham prides himself on. (Look at safety Shawn Williams playing linebacker last year).

Earlier this spring, Jones proclaimed that Georgia had the nation’s best defense. Time will tell on Jones’ statement, but after going through the spring motions, at least one of his teammates sees where Jones is coming from.

“We have an opportunity to do something special, as a defense and as a team,” Robinson said. “If we go out and do what we know and what we’ve learned, we could be one of the best ever to play at Georgia.”
We all know that defense wins championships and the SEC is very much a testament to that. Alabama possessed the nation's No. 1 defense last season and now possesses another national championship. Runner-up LSU ranked second nationally.

Alabama ran away with the crown as the nation's and the SEC's best defense, but that title is for the taking in 2012. Alabama is down key players from last year's squad, like linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, defensive tackle Josh Chapman, and defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, and DeQuan Menzie.

SportsNation

Who will have the best defense in 2012?

  •  
    24%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 12,039)

Alabama's defense isn't as green as the 2010 group, but it's still drawing some comparisons to it. That's exactly what the Tide wants to hear. Nico Johnson seems primed to be a true leader at linebacker, while Adrian Hubbard could be a budding star at Upshaw's old position. Defensive backs Robert Lester and Dee Milliner are back and will be joined by a couple of JUCO standouts and talented sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. Jesse Williams could be a real force at defensive tackle along with end Damion Square.

Then you have LSU. The Tigers lost All-World cornerback Morris Claiborne to the NFL draft and two starting linebackers. Michael Brockers is gone at defensive tackle as well. But LSU is still loaded. The Tigers return Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, who should be fine with an expanded role at cornerback. Junior Kevin Minter really stepped up at linebacker last year and should pick up right where he left off. Even without Brockers, the line is solid with future first-rounder Sam Montgomery at one end position and the underrated Barkevious Mingo at the other. The two combined for 17 sacks last season.

Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson should provide some meat nastiness in the interior, while the very talented Eric Reid is back at free safety.

Georgia and South Carolina both finished the 2011 season ranked in the top five nationally in total defense. South Carolina was third, while Georgia was fifth, respectively. The Gamecocks lost first-round defensive end Melvin Ingram, but return freshman standout Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, who many thought would be better than Ingram last season. Kelcy Quarles is back at defensive tackle and the coaches think he'll be even better in his second year.

Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who combined for 96 tackles last year, will grab time at linebacker again, while the very athletic DeVonte Holloman returns to the Spur for his senior year. There are questions in the secondary, but seniors D.J. Swearinger (safety) and Akeem Auguste (cornerback) return.

Georgia returns nine defensive starters. Brandon Boykin is gone at corner, and the Bulldogs will enter the fall with a lot questions in the secondary, especially with starters Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo suspended to start the season. Star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell moved to corner this spring and fits right in, but there are depth issues at the position.

Other than that, the Bulldogs are still pretty stacked. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree will serve a suspension to start the year, but Georgia will fill his spot by committee. Mike Gilliard, Cornelius Washington, Christian Robinson, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson provide Georgia with a very solid linebacking unit alongside star Jarvis Jones, who racked up 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Georgia's defensive line should also be pretty stout with the massive John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers battling in the middle. Abry Jones really progressed at end as well this spring.

Or maybe someone else will step up and take the crown ...

DawgNation links: Roundtable

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
1:23
PM ET
DawgNation Staff Insider: Roundtable -- With several question marks remaining after the spring game, this week's DawgNation Roundtable discussion covers some of the unresolved issues in Athens. What is the biggest question mark for the Bulldogs coming out of spring practice?

Radi Nabulsi: G-Day game photo gallery

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